I guess it really started about two years ago when Cooper was around 18 months old and loved playing with the broom in our kitchen. I thought, “Hey! They make kid-sized brooms, I should run by a toy store and pick one up for him. He’d love it!” So I went to our local Toys R Us and asked an employee where I could find the toy brooms. He directed me to the girls’ toy section called “Housekeeping.”
Housekeeping. In the girls’ section.
I wasn’t opposed to buying a hot pink broom, but was thankful when I found one in primary colors instead. I purchased it, took it home, and – as expected – Cooper loved it and has been enjoying it for two years (as a broom…a sword…an arm extension for reaching toys under the bed…).
The thing is it’s not like I don’t know what the “traditional” gender roles of our society are. And I believe they are – for the most part – based on truth. I do think there’s something in a girl’s makeup that makes her want to care for baby dolls and “play house.” And I do think there’s something in a boy’s makeup that makes them want to crash cars and make everything a sword. I think those things are going to come out, no matter what toys the kids have at their disposal.
What I didn’t like about what I saw at Toys R Us, and what I encounter all the time in kids’ stuff, is this message that there’s only one way to be a little girl and one way to be a little boy. You want to have a Housekeeping section in the girls’ toys with irons and brooms and baby dolls, great! But where’s the one for the boys? Not only do I want Cooper to have options for what he’s “allowed” to play with, but I also don’t want to raise him with this expectation that housework is women’s work. Paul and I have always shared household duties and I want Cooper to grow up with that idea as “normal.”
So, this year, as his “big” Christmas gift, Cooper got a play kitchen, complete with pots and pans, cooking utensils, and wooden food. Most of it was purchased at IKEA or from Melissa & Doug. Every time we’ve been around a play kitchen at school, at church, at the doctor’s office, Cooper has made a beeline for it and played happily for as long as he was allowed. When I posted photos online of Coops playing in his kitchen, I got several questions. “You got a kitchen? For your son?” Yes, people, yes. My boy loves to play in a kitchen. And why shouldn’t I encourage that? After all, aren’t most chefs men? The kitchen is a gender neutral area. I also bought my cousin’s two year old daughter a pack of brightly colored magnetic cars, and she adored them.
The foundation of our parenting philosophy is that our job is to produce not a good kid, but a good adult. To that end, we try to be really intentional about the way in which we teach Cooper lessons. What I want to teach him about being a man, through direct and implied messages, is that “real men” lead with love, step up to the plate and care for people who need it, are gentlemen, treat others with respect. If he wants to play with a toy kitchen in the meantime, who am I to object?
PS – I highly recommend the books Packaging Boyhood and Packaging Girlhood for more on how you can notice, think critically about, and combat gender-based messages that you may not want your child receiving. Both books are fantastic modern parenting resources.